Freshman Meet and Greet: LSU and Michigan

In part 2 of the freshmanification of our general college gymnastics consciousnesses, I’m looking at the four new LSU Tigers and the pair of new Michigan Wolverines for the 2014 season.

Coming off a very important finish last year, half a point off the national title, LSU will be feeling quite confident about how few routines the team is losing and how much opportunity there is for improvement on that result. Expect this new crop of freshmen to do more than simply replace the few missing vault and beam routines. There should be enough quality coming out of this group of four to allow some of those nail biter routines from last year to become backups.

An important theme for both of the teams in this post is that nasty little wretch of a log, the beam. For LSU, I would feel confident in only Courville and Jordan as locks to return to that lineup. The rest of the spots are up for grabs for whoever can show a 9.850. There is room (and need) for some new blood. Let’s begin.

The newbie with star power is Ashleigh Gnat, and she certainly has the familial pedigree for us to expect big things. She won both vault and floor in Senior D at JOs last year, so yeah, LSU recruited another vault and floor champion. We’re all surprised. But what makes her such a gain is that, in spite of the few routines LSU is losing, she can still make the lineup on every event and be among the scoring leaders on several of them. 

Let’s start with that vault where Gnat made headlines by competing a DTY in JO, which is a rare feat. There’s a bit of a crazy legs block, but she completes those two twists comfortably, farther around than a fair chunk of the elites doing that vault. The nice thing about the DTY is that we know if you can do the DTY, you have the power and air time to complete a comfortable full, at the very least. Her vault can certainly be a big routine for LSU, but there is a tendency to assume that competing a difficult vault pre-NCAA means a person will automatically be a scoring leader in NCAA. This is not always the case. Both Jessica Savona and Britney Ranzy also competed DTYs, but neither made the postseason vault lineup last year for LSU (which is its own issue). With those two along with the five returners from last year’s final lineup, there will be a ton of competition on this event, so whatever vault she ends up competing will have to be big and clean and stuck. Obviously, the potential is there for huge scores.

Power is clearly Gnat’s biggest asset overall. She has a pike full in on floor, which she competes along with a 2.5 and a double pike, and she rises high in her tumbling and usually has quite secure landings. Floor can be a spot of contribution for her, and even though I would say vault and floor are her stronger events, because she is a strong AAer, she may be more valuable elsewhere because of LSU’s greater need. Beam is solid, which they’ll take any day, and while we can probably classify bars as her weakest event, the foundation is still there for a fine NCAA routine. The performance above from the Nastia Liukin Pink Is The New Pink Jamboree is a bit rushed, with some moments of leg form and overall floppiness here and there, but she has a toe point and a usable gienger and DLO, so I’m not complaining.

Sydney Ewing

I almost listed Ewing as a bit of an afterthought because she was not among the original group of commits and I’ve only seen a couple clips of her here and there, but she has come on strong in the past year and is a powerful little thing who appears to have a strong skill level on three events (not a bars worker). She managed a 38.350 at Region 8s last year to finish second to Gnat’s 39.000, and she placed well on vault and floor at Metroplex. To sing the old song, her biggest trouble will be that her strengths are also the strengths of pretty much everyone on LSU’s team already. Vault and floor, join the club. She does work some difficulty on beam, including a layout to two feet, but consistency appears to be a concern there.

Shonacee Oliva

Oliva competed in the JO NIT last year and placed well on every event. She has kind of blank slate gymnastics, and by that I mean that there is no one event or group of skills that stands out, but she is clean and can be developed into a lineup-ready gymnast because she’s not overtly weak anywhere (although, like the Florida freshmen, she shows just a double back as a bars dismount). She is one we could see more from as time goes on. She has a fairly clean Yfull now as well, but the question for her will be how much she can step up the bigness to make a mark on a team of bigness.

Shae Zamardi

D-D Breaux was very upfront that Zamardi was recruited for her bars. Last year saw improvement for LSU on bars, but it’s no secret that this team still needs a scoring infusion in the beginning of that lineup to break in among the top four teams. Zamardi has the high tariff elements (you can tell I’ve been watching BBC gym broadcasts), but there is work to be done on form if she is to be a bars standout. The legs are all over the place at many points in that routine, so she will need to be sculpted into a competitive routine here. Efficient composition will be key because note how strong the first two handstands are and how they deteriorate as the routine goes on. This is a good Jay Clark project. 

I have not noted yet that Stephanie Colbert has retired with a wrist injury, so her solid 9.800s at the beginning of the vault and floor lineups are another area in addition to the lost routines from Zurales and Martinez where the freshmen and transfer Brooke Parker will be expected to step in and contribute immediately. Maintaining the quality from 2013 will be a challenge because Michigan is still a small team overall, but it’s a strong team with not much dead weight filling out the roster. 

Much like LSU, those vault and floor lineups have the potential to be amazing, but beam will be a concern. It’s an event where the team clung barely to 49.000s throughout the season last year, but it ended up being the one that kept them out of Super Six with just one routine breaking 9.8. And now that one routine, Katie Zurales, is gone.

The bigger name of the two freshmen is Talia Chiarelli, the Brestyan’s gymnast who competed elite for both the US and Canada and made some international teams for Canada back when they needed vaulters before the likes of Ellie Black came around. To know the scouting report on her, you could stop at “Brestyan’s gymnast” and understand why I have refrained from including a bars video.

She’s another with a DTY and has always had great power on it. Certainly, the same difficulty caveat applies here as with Gnat, but I fully expect her to be entrenched in the deep portion of that vault lineup right away given the exits of Zurales and Colbert. She’ll beef up the already tremendous scoring potential coming from Beilstein, Sugiyama, Sampson, and Sheppard. Chiarelli can also make an immediate impact on floor with her excellent tumbling, and because of that I don’t expect a significant drop off in either the vault or floor scores from last year. Bars and beam are a different matter, and this season I think Michigan is going to feel the hurt over Morgan Smith not panning out there.

As for beam, Chiarelli can absolutely do the event and has the skill set, but if we’re using Brestyan’s parallels, it’s all rather Alicia Sacramone circa 2004. Because of her talent level, it will probably be worth it to at least try to get her into the beam lineup and develop some consistency, but I expect this routine to do nothing to alleviate Michigan fans’ beam-induced heart disease. Illustration: I don’t usually put videos of fall routines in these posts (am I becoming nice?), but the non-fall video options were scant.

Nicole Artz

Artz had a strong result at JO Nationals when she competed in 2012, winning floor in Junior D, and it’s clear why. She has the potential for big tumbling and has been training a piked full in so far this preseason, giving Michigan yet another option on the floor. She’s another for whom bars is not really a strength, but she’s not at Chiarelli levels. Michigan will need a couple bars workers, so hers may be in contention to become a routine. The beam video here is a slightly older one (from 2011), but you get the idea. A little uncertain, but could it become a 9.8 if necessary? Sure. I get the feeling that anyone who can hit a routine will be contending for that lineup. 

3 thoughts on “Freshman Meet and Greet: LSU and Michigan”

  1. I wonder if Brooke Parker will be able to break into the beam or bar lineups for Michigan. Floor is the obvious place where she will factor in, but based on her past JO years, she could probably be an early lineup gymnast on beam and a backup gymnast on bars.

  2. I'm so excited for Ashleigh Gnat! She's such a good gymnast, and I think she'll do really well in college. I'm also excited for Talia Chiarelli mainly because she's just awesome.

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